A reply to a scathing critique

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

This is in reply to the letter to the editor written by Ralph Simonson on Friday, July 25.

I live in Costa Rica and have done so for a little over 10 years.   Like many people who live and visit here, I am frustrated at times by the lack of efficiency and bureaucratic incompetence that you meet sometimes.  And I don’t know anyone, neither local expat nor tourist, who likes the traffic.

However, I would like to clear up some errors in Ralph’s letter.

Ralph complains about the secondary manual inspection that he had to undergo before leaving Costa Rica at the airport.  This is not a Costa Rican policy, but an American one for flights entering the States.  If you fly to Panamá or a South American destination, you don’t have to undergo this second check.   Indeed, in many other airports in the world, if you are flying to the U.S.A., you have to undergo a secondary inspection or security check at your boarding gate or before you board.

Ralph further complains about the $29 exit tax that everyone is forced to pay upon leaving Costa Rica, and states that “no other country has this.”   Again, this is inaccurate. Nearly every country in the world has this tax (or a similar type of tax).  It is merely included in the cost of your ticket.  They might call it something different, but look at your ticket breakdown, you’ll find TSA security tax, airport improvement fee, etc, etc all in that cost.  Other countries are just more efficient than Costa Rica, and they don’t make you pay it separately.

Further on, Ralph talks about the rate charged on his credit card bill.  He states that he was charged the rate to “sell colons” and complains about this.  He may well have been overcharged, but he also talks about the buy=sell rate. I think maybe he is misunderstanding how the currency exchange works.

If he makes a $100 purchase, and the colon buy/sell rate is 545/555 respectively,  he should be charged 55,500 colons for his purchase by the store, not 54,500 colons.  In effect, he’s buying 100$ for 55,500 colons.  The reason he’s not being charged $100 straight on his card, is likely because the store or place of business does not have the facility to charge in dollars with his merchant account (most businesses do not). They can only charge in colons.

For his own credit card, if on his bill, if he was charged significantly more than $100, what is happening is almost certainly that his bank is charging him a rate that is not 545 (likely 535 or 530).  Many American/Canadian/European banks do this.  They will advertise “No foreign exchange fees,” and that is true. They won’t charge you a fee, but they will stiff you on the exchange rate.  This is the same thing that many of those exchange booths in airports do.

Costa Rica has a lot of issues and problems, in some respects things are improving, in others, no.  But at the end of the day, let us make sure our criticisms of the country are accurate.

A further note here, the editor states that: “Businesses that decline to take credit cards sometimes are defrauding the country by not remitting the sales tax.”

I feel it is important to note that merchant fees for smaller businesses can be in excess of 7 percent.  Thus, if you buy something for $100 in cash, the store gets $100.  If you buy something for $100 on your credit card bill, the store might only get $93.   That is another reason why a cash discount of about 5 percent is so common in Costa Rica.  And that is a cash discount con factura or with the official bill.

Shaun Dolen 
Santa Ana
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